tagged w/ NASA
Scientists are utilizing a complicated new 'sky crane' technique for landing the car-sized Curiosity rover on Mars Monday. The hope is that the good luck NASA has had with Mars missions will hold up.
By Pete Spotts, Staff writer / August 3, 2012
NASA calls it "seven minutes of terror" – the final minutes that the one-ton Mars rover Curiosity must survive to cap an eight-month interplanetary cruise.
Using a unique "sky crane" approach, a rocket-powered descent module will gently ease a tethered Curiosity onto the red planet's surface, then release the rover and fly off to crash at a safe distance from the landing site.
It's a method that will present more than its share of nail-biting moments. Indeed, at press briefings and in messages to their staffs, NASA managers have tried to underscore just how risky this venture is.
While using any new technology for the first time on such a high-profile space mission carries risks of failure, if history is any guide, the odds for success may be somewhat higher than NASA publicly acknowledges.
Slated to arrive on the surface of Mars at 1:31 a.m. Eastern Daylight Time Monday, the rover is the most expensive, scientifically ambitious robotic craft humans have ever tried to place on another planet.
The goal of the $2.5-billion mission is to determine if Gale Crater and its central summit, informally known as Mt. Sharp, once presented an environment that at least simple forms of life could have called home.
Humanity's track record for Mars missions isn't stellar, James Green, NASA director of planetary science, suggested in an email posted July 29 on the website planetarynews.com.
Since 1960, when the first attempt at a Mars flyby was made by the Soviet Union, "the historical success rate at Mars is only 40 percent," he wrote.
That figure, however, includes all space-faring nations, such as Russia, pre- and post-Soviet collapse, which is 0 for 19, most recently with the loss of last year's Phobos-Grunt mission to study the moons of Mars. Out of the 18 mission NASA lists with Mars as the destination or as the main target for a flyby, the agency has a batting average of .730. Of the attempts at landing spacecraft on the surface, beginning with the Viking missions in 1975, the agency is six for seven.
"Getting onto the surface of Mars safely is hard," says Mark Lemmon, a planetary scientist at Texas A&M University in College Station.
How hard? Ask him about Mars Polar Lander, which was lost on landing in December 1999. He was on the science team for the lander, one of several recent Mars missions on his resume.
"I was slightly emotionally scarred by that experience," he says.
With Curiosity "I think our chances are good," he adds. "I've seen people who thought this was a scary approach to Mars exploration look at it in detail and come away and say: This is actually a really good idea."
This is not the first time engineers have reached outside the box for a Mars mission. Sixteen years ago NASA dropped its first rover onto Mars using an unorthodox method – encasing it in a cocoon of inflatable air bags.
Parts of the delivery system looked much like Curiosity's. At a predetermined altitude above Mars, a rocket-equipped descent module lowered Sojourner Truth and its landing platform via cables far enough to allow the rover's protective air bags to inflate. The module cut the cables, and the rover in its cocoon dropped to the surface, bouncing along the surface with ever smaller hops until it came to rest.
The bags then deflated, leaving the rover to drive down a ramp and explore its new home. When telemetry indicated that the airbags had deflated and that the rover and its landing platform were upright and healthy, cheers and high-fives erupted in mission control.
"Going into Pathfinder, there were a lot of people who said: ‘That is a strange, new system; why would you ever consider using such a thing?’" Dr. Lemmon says. “Now, everyone points to that as a way to go.”
The twin rovers Spirit and Opportunity, which arrived at Mars separately in January 2004, also used the airbag approach. Spirit fell silent in March 2010. Opportunity is still exploring its patch of the planet, logging 21.52 miles since its arrival.
The sky crane "looks a bit crazy," acknowledges Adam Steltzner, the rover's lead engineer at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "I promise you it's the least crazy of the methods you could use to land a rover the size of Curiosity on Mars.... I'm fairly confident that [the landing] will be a good night for us."
During the "seven minutes of terror," the descent vehicle is expected to slam into the Martian atmosphere at 13,000 miles an hour. Kept on course by small steering jets, the vehicle will release its single parachute after slowing to about 1,000 miles an hour. About a mile above the surface, the descent module then will release the chute, drop its heat shield, and the module's eight rocket motors will ignite, braking further to about 200 miles an hour.
The ultimate goal is to slow the descent to about 1.5 miles an hour, while descending straight down. About 70 feet above the surface, the module will begin lowering Curiosity until it dangles about 24 feet below the module. When the descending module senses that the rover is squarely on the surface, it will cut the cables and fly off to crash a safe distance away.
The fully automated landing system is designed to sense its track during descent and steer itself, an approach that's never been used before. This leads to a more precise landing, shrinking the size of the projected landing zone from 62 miles for past missions to 12 miles. That tighter landing zone makes a successful touchdown in Gale Crater possible.
Of the seven minutes, three are the most tension-filled, Steltzner noted during a briefing Thursday. The guided descent and the use of the sky crane are obvious nail-biters. The other involves a huge 70-foot-wide parachute, which must endure supersonic descent speeds.
Parachutes are "fundamentally sketchy kinds of devices," he says. Unlike, say, paratroopers, Curiosity has no back-up parachute due to design considerations.
While history is replete with failed Mars missions, with Curiosity, Lemmon says "you've got to look at the experience of the people doing it and say: You've got some reasonable confidence. If anyone can do it, the team that's running Curiosity can.”
How confident is he? "I have a lease on an apartment here in Pasadena for the next three months," he says. But, he adds, "there's an escape clause."Scientists are utilizing a complicated new 'sky crane' technique for landing... more
NASA announced Friday its intentions of a United States return to the International Space Station within five years.
http://www.examiner.com/article/nasa-selects-space-taxi-developers-for-u-s-international-space-station-comebackNASA announced Friday its intentions of a United States return to the International... more
NASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, is set to make a complicated landing on the red planet late Sunday night as scientist set out on yet another mission to learn more in what will mark the 19th mission and eighth landing attempt.
http://www.examiner.com/article/nasa-s-newest-mars-rover-set-for-complicated-landing-sunday-nightNASA's newest Mars rover, Curiosity, is set to make a complicated landing on the... more
"Most scientists had assumed the flags hadn’t survived more than four decades of harsh conditions on the moon."
http://veracitystew.com/?p=40101"Most scientists had assumed the flags hadn’t survived more than four... more
July 24, 2012: For several days this month, Greenland's surface ice cover melted over a larger area than at any time in more than 30 years of satellite observations. Nearly the entire ice cover of Greenland, from its thin, low-lying coastal edges to its two-mile-thick center, experienced some degree of melting at its surface, according to measurements from three independent satellites analyzed by NASA and university scientists.
On average in the summer, about half of the surface of Greenland's ice sheet naturally melts. At high elevations, most of that melt water quickly refreezes in place. Near the coast, some of the melt water is retained by the ice sheet and the rest is lost to the ocean. But this year the extent of ice melting at or near the surface jumped dramatically. According to satellite data, an estimated 97 percent of the ice sheet surface thawed at some point in mid-July.
Researchers have not yet determined whether this extensive melt event will affect the overall volume of ice loss this summer and contribute to sea level rise.
"The Greenland ice sheet is a vast area with a varied history of change. This event, combined with other natural but uncommon phenomena, such as the large calving event last week on Petermann Glacier, are part of a complex story," said Tom Wagner, NASA's cryosphere program manager in Washington. "Satellite observations are helping us understand how events like these may relate to one another as well as to the broader climate system."
Son Nghiem of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., was analyzing radar data from the Indian Space Research Organisation's (ISRO) Oceansat-2 satellite last week when he noticed that most of Greenland appeared to have undergone surface melting on July 12. Nghiem said, "This was so extraordinary that at first I questioned the result: was this real or was it due to a data error?"
Nghiem consulted with Dorothy Hall at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md. Hall studies the surface temperature of Greenland using the Moderate-resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) on NASA's Terra and Aqua satellites. She confirmed that MODIS showed unusually high temperatures and that melt was extensive over the ice sheet surface.
Thomas Mote, a climatologist at the University of Georgia, Athens, Ga; and Marco Tedesco of City University of New York also confirmed the melt seen by Oceansat-2 and MODIS with passive-microwave satellite data from the Special Sensor Microwave Imager/Sounder on a U.S. Air Force meteorological satellite.
The melting spread quickly. Melt maps derived from the three satellites showed that on July 8, about 40 percent of the ice sheet's surface had melted. By July 12, 97 percent had melted.
This extreme melt event coincided with an unusually strong ridge of warm air, or a heat dome, over Greenland. The ridge was one of a series that has dominated Greenland's weather since the end of May. "Each successive ridge has been stronger than the previous one," said Mote. This latest heat dome started to move over Greenland on July 8, and then parked itself over the ice sheet about three days later. By July 16, it had begun to dissipate.
Even the area around Summit Station in central Greenland, which at 2 miles above sea level is near the highest point of the ice sheet, showed signs of melting. Such pronounced melting at Summit and across the ice sheet has not occurred since 1889, according to ice cores analyzed by Kaitlin Keegan at Dartmouth College in Hanover, N.H. A National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration weather station at Summit confirmed air temperatures hovered above or within a degree of freezing for several hours July 11-12.
"Ice cores from Summit show that melting events of this type occur about once every 150 years on average. With the last one happening in 1889, this event is right on time," says Lora Koenig, a Goddard glaciologist and a member of the research team analyzing the satellite data. "But if we continue to observe melting events like this in upcoming years, it will be worrisome."July 24, 2012: For several days this month, Greenland's surface ice cover melted... more
First off, let me just say, I don’t mourn astronauts. I celebrate them. If I had a daughter, I would point her to Christa McAuliffe, Judith Reznick, Kalpana Chawla, or Sally Ride, the first woman ever in space, who passed away after a 17-month-long battle with pancreatic cancer. It’s easy to get misty over Ride’s passing, but there’s no reason to get misty. Sally Ride broke the barriers; in fact, she skyrocketed through them, literally.
http://veracitystew.com/?p=39569First off, let me just say, I don’t mourn astronauts. I celebrate them. If I had... more
Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly to space, has died, according to Sally Ride Science.
http://www.examiner.com/article/first-american-woman-to-fly-to-space-sally-ride-dead-at-age-61Sally Ride, the first American woman to fly to space, has died, according to Sally... more
Space smells. But what does it smell like? Different astronauts and scientists have said different things—from seared steak to hot metal, gunpowder to welding fumes, raspberries to rum and nearly any meaty metallic description in between—but it's known to be a gnarly scent. Now NASA wants to know for sure. It's hired a scent chemist to get to the bottom of the smell of space.
The idea is to recreate the space smell in training so prospective astronauts can get better acclimated and not be caught off guard by the stench. Steve Pearce, the scent chemist tasked by NASA to recreate the smell, had previously made an art installation that mimicked the smell of the Mir space station. As Pearce explains how he cooked up the scent for the Mir:
"Just imagine sweaty feet and stale body odor, mix that odor with nail polish remover and gasoline ... then you get close!"
That seems like a good place to start, I guess. Awful and awful with more awful.Space smells. But what does it smell like? Different astronauts and scientists have... more
The Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew had blasted off from Florida about 109 hours earlier. The two astronauts spent just over 21 hours on the moon before returning to the orbiting Columbia module to begin their journey back to Earth.
More at the linkThe Saturn V rocket carrying the Apollo 11 crew had blasted off from Florida about 109... more
NASA says they captured a rare seen during a storm on Saturn last year, the largest storm ever seen up-close on the planet.
http://www.examiner.com/article/giant-storm-on-saturn-illuminates-daytime-blue-lightning-nasa-orbiter-capturesNASA says they captured a rare seen during a storm on Saturn last year, the largest... more
RAW Nasa Footage Of Dramatic Solar Flare (solar-storm 14.07.2012)
A NASA-sponsored researcher at the University of Iowa has developed a way for spacecraft to hunt down hidden magnetic portals in the vicinity of Earth. These gateways link the magnetic field of our planet to that of the sun, setting the stage for stormy space weather. The Magnetospheric Multiscale (MMS) mission will study these portals. Credit: Science@NASA
A favorite theme of science fiction is "the portal"--an extraordinary opening in space or time that connects travelers to distant realms. A good portal is a shortcut, a guide, a door into the unknown. If only they actually existed....
It turns out that they do, sort of, and a NASA-funded researcher at the University of Iowa has figured out how to find them.
"We call them X-points or electron diffusion regions," explains plasma physicist Jack Scudder of the University of Iowa. "They're places where the magnetic field of Earth connects to the magnetic field of the Sun, creating an uninterrupted path leading from our own planet to the sun's atmosphere 93 million miles away."
Observations by NASA's THEMIS spacecraft and Europe's Cluster probes suggest that these magnetic portals open and close dozens of times each day. They're typically located a few tens of thousands of kilometers from Earth where the geomagnetic field meets the onrushing solar wind. Most portals are small and short-lived; others are yawning, vast, and sustained. Tons of energetic particles can flow through the openings, heating Earth's upper atmosphere, sparking geomagnetic storms, and igniting bright polar auroras.
NASA is planning a mission called "MMS," short for Magnetospheric Multiscale Mission, due to launch in 2014, to study the phenomenon. Bristling with energetic particle detectors and magnetic sensors, the four spacecraft of MMS will spread out in Earth's magnetosphere and surround the portals to observe how they work.
Just one problem: Finding them. Magnetic portals are invisible, unstable, and elusive. They open and close without warning "and there are no signposts to guide us in," notes Scudder.
Actually, there are signposts, and Scudder has found them.
Portals form via the process of magnetic reconnection. Mingling lines of magnetic force from the sun and Earth criss-cross and join to create the openings. "X-points" are where the criss-cross takes place. The sudden joining of magnetic fields can propel jets of charged particles from the X-point, creating an "electron diffusion region."
To learn how to pinpoint these events, Scudder looked at data from a space probe that orbited Earth more than 10 years ago.
"In the late 1990s, NASA's Polar spacecraft spent years in Earth's magnetosphere," explains Scudder, "and it encountered many X-points during its mission."
Because Polar carried sensors similar to those of MMS, Scudder decided to see how an X-point looked to Polar. "Using Polar data, we have found five simple combinations of magnetic field and energetic particle measurements that tell us when we've come across an X-point or an electron diffusion region. A single spacecraft, properly instrumented, can make these measurements."
This means that single member of the MMS constellation using the diagnostics can find a portal and alert other members of the constellation. Mission planners long thought that MMS might have to spend a year or so learning to find portals before it could study them. Scudder's work short cuts the process, allowing MMS to get to work without delay.
It's a shortcut worthy of the best portals of fiction, only this time the portals are real. And with the new "signposts" we know how to find them.A NASA-sponsored researcher at the University of Iowa has developed a way for... more
Pollen grains and leaf waxes record vegetation on Antarctica during a time of global warmth 20-15 million years ago, when greenhouse gas concentrations may have been similar to projections for the end of the 21st Century. Image credit: Sophie Warny and Kate Griener (Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge)Pollen grains and leaf waxes record vegetation on Antarctica during a time of global... more
Two black holes are challenging the prevailing idea of how giant black holes grow in the cores of galaxies.These black holes are found in the centers of two relatively nearby galaxies: NGC 4342 and NGC 4291.
New Chandra data suggest that the growth of these black holes is tied to the envelopes of dark matter around the galaxies, not their bulges.Two black holes are challenging the prevailing idea of how giant black holes grow in... more
Scientists have made a biological discovery in Arctic Ocean waters as dramatic and unexpected as finding a rainforest in the middle of a desert. A NASA-sponsored expedition punched through three-foot thick sea ice to find waters richer in microscopic marine plants, essential to all sea life, than any other ocean region on Earth.Scientists have made a biological discovery in Arctic Ocean waters as dramatic and... more
"On June 4th, 2012, there's going to be a full Moon. According to Native American folklore it’s the Strawberry Moon, so-called because the short season for harvesting strawberries comes during the month of June.
This Strawberry’s going to have a bite taken out of it.
At 3:00 am Pacific Daylight Time, not long before sunrise on Monday, June 4th, the Moon passes directly behind our planet. A broad stretch of lunar terrain around the southern crater Tycho will fall under the shadow of Earth, producing the first lunar eclipse of 2012. At maximum eclipse, around 4:04 am PDT, 37% of the Moon's surface will be in the dark.
There are charts, diagrams at the link.
Don't know 'bout you, but a little less crazy in the news would be OK by me. Just the same, I am getting up early and waving my hands over my head as the sun comes up. Gonna tell my early rising neighbors that I am making shadow puppets on the moon. Sadly, someone is likely to believe that is possible."On June 4th, 2012, there's going to be a full Moon. According to Native... more
On the hottest day of the New York City summer in 2011, a white roof covering was measured at 42 degrees Fahrenheit cooler than the traditional black roof it was being compared to, according to a study including NASA scientists that details the first scientific results from the city's unprecedented effort to brighten rooftops and reduce its "urban heat island" effect.
The dark, sunlight-absorbing surfaces of some New York City roofs reached 170 degrees Fahrenheit on July 22, 2011, a day that set a city record for electricity usage during the peak of a heat wave. But in the largest discrepancy of that day, a white roofing material was measured at about 42 degrees cooler. The white roof being tested was a low-cost covering promoted as part of Mayor Michael Bloomberg's effort to reduce the city's greenhouse gas emissions 30 percent by 2030.
On average through the summer of 2011, the pilot white roof surface reduced peak rooftop temperature compared to a typical black roof by 43 degrees Fahrenheit, according to the study, which was the first long-term effort in New York to test how specific white roof materials held up and performed over several years.
Widespread installation of white roofs, like New York City is attempting through the NYC CoolRoofs program, could reduce city temperatures while cutting down on energy usage and resulting greenhouse gas emissions, said Stuart Gaffin, a research scientist at Columbia University, and lead author on a paper detailing the roof study. The paper published online Mar. 7, 2012, in Environmental Research Letters.
The urban landscape of asphalt, metal, and dark buildings absorbs more energy from sunlight than forests, fields or snow- and ice-covered landscapes, which reflect more light. The absorption leads to what scientists call an "urban heat island," where a city experiences markedly warmer temperatures than surrounding regions. New York City’s urban heat island has a more pronounced effect at night, typically raising nighttime temperatures between 5 and 7 degrees Fahrenheit relative to what they would be without the effect, according to Gaffin's previous research.
The problem leads to everything from spikes in electricity usage and greenhouse gas emissions to poorer air quality and increased risk of death during heat waves. In recent years, city planners worldwide have discussed cutting into this effect by converting dark roofs to either "living" roofs covered in plants or to white roofs, the far less expensive option. The options tested in this study included two synthetic membranes requiring professional installation and a do-it-yourself (DIY), white-paint coating that is being promoted by the city's white roof initiative.
"Cities have been progressively darkening the landscape for hundreds of years. This is the first effort in New York to reverse that. It's an ambitious effort with real potential to lower city temperatures and energy bills," said Gaffin. "City roofs are traditionally black because asphalt and tar are waterproof, tough, ductile and were easiest to apply to complex rooftop geometries. But from a climate and urban heat island standpoint, it makes a lot of sense to install bright, white roofs. That's why we say, 'Bright is the new black.'"
With climate change, the urban heat island problem will likely intensify in coming decades, said Cynthia Rosenzweig, a scientist at NASA's Goddard Institute for Space Studies in New York City and a co-author on the paper.
"Right now, we average about 14 days each summer above 90 degrees in New York. In a couple decades, we could be experiencing 30 days or more," Rosenzweig said.
The study found similar temperature reduction when all the surfaces were first installed, but that the professionally installed membranes maintained their reflectivity better over multiple years.
The fraction of incoming solar radiation reflected skyward determines what is called a surface's albedo. The citywide program is in effect an "albedo enhancement" program. In addition to measuring rooftop surface temperature, the study also looked at how the reflectivity and emissivity of the white surfaces held up over time. Reflectivity measures how much light a surface immediately reflects skyward. Emissivity measures how much infrared radiation a surface emits after absorbing solar radiation.
Both the reflectivity and emissivity of the professionally installed white membrane coverings (which cost about $15 to $28 per square foot) held up remarkably well after even four years in use. These surfaces continued to meet Energy Star standards, set by the EPA's Energy Star Reflective Roof program. The effectiveness of the white coating (which only costs about 50 cents per square foot) was about cut in half after two years, ultimately falling below the Energy Star standard. However, Gaffin said, the low-cost surface improved albedo markedly over typical black, asphalt roofs.
"It's the lowest hanging fruit. It's very cheap to do; it's a retro-fit. You don't need a skilled labor force. And you don't have to wait for a roof to be retired," said Gaffin referring to the DIY acrylic method. "So if you really talk about ways in which you brighten urban albedo, this is the fastest, cheapest way to do it."
NASA studies the urban heat island effect to better understand and model how urban surfaces and expanding urbanization might impact regional and global climate, said Marc Imhoff, a biospheric scientist at NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Md.
"We're trying to build a capability where we can expand our knowledge with data on more locations, and ultimately develop computer models that would allow us to predict urban heat islands and urban temperatures on a town level," Imhoff said. "Eventually, we could incorporate our findings into large-scale, global climate models."
NASA's Goddard Space Flight CenterOn the hottest day of the New York City summer in 2011, a white roof covering was... more
Is there anything private companies will not be able to do? From SpaceX to companies like Blackwater. http://youtu.be/RtCorU3BpiIIs there anything private companies will not be able to do? From SpaceX to companies... more
Late tomorrow evening (AEST), all going well, a Falcon 9 rocket will lift-off from Cape Canaveral, Florida. A few days after launch the craft will rendezvous in low-Earth orbit with the International Space Station (ISS).
This may sound pretty run-of-the-mill to most people, but it is a momentous, potentially game-changing event.
The Falcon 9 rocket has been designed, built and will be flown by Space Exploration Technologies, a privately-owned company. SpaceX, as the company has become known, was founded in 2002 by Elon Musk, the internet entrepreneur who founded PayPal, and who is also a strong believer in human space exploration.
It is one of two companies that have been contracted by NASA to provide safe and reliable cargo delivery services to the ISS. The other is Orbital Science Corporation.
SpaceX has flown the Falcon 9 rocket twice before. The maiden flight in June 2010 was the first by a private company to put a payload into orbit and retrieve it after re-entry.
The second, in December that same year, launched the Dragon spacecraft into a stable orbit, then retrieved it intact after re-entry.
Dragon is the craft that will rendezvous with the ISS. It is a fully re-usable vehicle that in the future has the potential to carry passengers.
In tomorrow’s planned launch, Falcon 9 will boost the unmanned Dragon vehicle into an orbit close to that of the ISS. Over the next few days SpaceX will direct Dragon to perform a large number of important tasks. These include deploying solar array, confirming operation of a guidance system and performing controlled rocket burns for re-orientation.
These are requirements imposed by NASA before the Dragon spacecraft will be allowed to enter the Keep-Out Sphere (KOS), a 200-metre imaginary sphere drawn around the ISS.
If all goes well, Dragon will eventually be grabbed by a robotic arm and berth with the ISS. Due to the experimental nature of the flight, the cargo to be delivered is not critical to the ISS.
Interestingly, both SpaceX and Orbital Sciences plan to use expendable rockets for cargo delivery to the ISS. These are very expensive vehicles (of the order of $20 million, depending on the size) that are thrown away after each launch, leading to the high cost of access-to-space.
While SpaceX currently uses modern manufacturing and management practices to reduce costs, it and other companies have future plans to make space cheaper using fully re-usable systems. These could use airbreathing propulsion in combination with rockets, and allow aircraft-like trips to space.
It is important to view this launch in the context of the US future in space. Until now, NASA has been responsible for all US activities related to space exploration, and these can be broken down into three distinctly different activities:
1. getting from Earth’s surface into a stable orbit
2. robotic exploration of the solar system
3. human exploration of the solar system.
All exploration of the solar system depends on first getting into Earth orbit, so NASA has invested a significant amount of its resources into this activity.
The Saturn V rocket that powered the Apollo program to the moon and the Space Shuttle were both designed to accomplish this task. But NASA has now reached a crossroads.
The agency does not have the funds to develop new rockets for delivery of cargo and astronauts to Earth orbit, as well as to conduct exciting exploration of the solar system.
If successful, the flight by SpaceX may enable NASA to start shifting its focus further out into space.
There are some [Members of congress; there have also been some submissions to congress from former astronauts] in the US who feel uncomfortable about NASA giving up its direct control of delivery to orbit, particularly where astronauts are involved.
That’s understandable and I don’t expect NASA astronauts to fly to the ISS with SpaceX or Orbital Sciences in the near term. But taking the burden of cargo delivery away from NASA will be an important psychological step.
SpaceX is an aggressive company, and has set itself a very difficult task. Even if it doesn’t succeed this time, it will no doubt learn from any mistakes and fly again.
Tomorrow marks the opening of a new frontier.
By Michael Smart
Professor of Hypersonic Aerodynamics at University of Queensland
18 May 2012, 3.27pm AESTLate tomorrow evening (AEST), all going well, a Falcon 9 rocket will lift-off from... more
By James Hansen, NASA
New York Times | May 9, 2012
GLOBAL warming isn’t a prediction. It is happening. That is why I was so troubled to read a recent interview with President Obama in Rolling Stone in which he said that Canada would exploit the oil in its vast tar sands reserves “regardless of what we do.”
If Canada proceeds, and we do nothing, it will be game over for the climate.
Canada’s tar sands, deposits of sand saturated with bitumen, contain twice the amount of carbon dioxide emitted by global oil use in our entire history. If we were to fully exploit this new oil source, and continue to burn our conventional oil, gas and coal supplies, concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere eventually would reach levels higher than in the Pliocene era, more than 2.5 million years ago, when sea level was at least 50 feet higher than it is now.
That level of heat-trapping gases would assure that the disintegration of the ice sheets would accelerate out of control. Sea levels would rise and destroy coastal cities. Global temperatures would become intolerable. Twenty to 50 percent of the planet’s species would be driven to extinction. Civilization would be at risk.
That is the long-term outlook. But near-term, things will be bad enough. Over the next several decades, the Western United States and the semi-arid region from North Dakota to Texas will develop semi-permanent drought, with rain, when it does come, occurring in extreme events with heavy flooding. Economic losses would be incalculable. More and more of the Midwest would be a dust bowl. California’s Central Valley could no longer be irrigated. Food prices would rise to unprecedented levels.
If this sounds apocalyptic, it is. This is why we need to reduce emissions dramatically.
President Obama has the power not only to deny tar sands oil additional access to Gulf Coast refining, which Canada desires in part for export markets, but also to encourage economic incentives to leave tar sands and other dirty fuels in the ground.
The global warming signal is now louder than the noise of random weather, as I predicted would happen by now in the journal Science in 1981. Extremely hot summers have increased noticeably. We can say with high confidence that the recent heat waves in Texas and Russia, and the one in Europe in 2003, which killed tens of thousands, were not natural events — they were caused by human-induced climate change.
We have known since the 1800s that carbon dioxide traps heat in the atmosphere. The right amount keeps the climate conducive to human life. But add too much, as we are doing now, and temperatures will inevitably rise too high. This is not the result of natural variability, as some argue. The earth is currently in the part of its long-term orbit cycle where temperatures would normally be cooling. But they are rising — and it’s because we are forcing them higher with fossil fuel emissions.
The concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere has risen from 280 parts per million to 393 p.p.m. over the last 150 years. The tar sands contain enough carbon — 240 gigatons — to add 120 p.p.m. Tar shale, a close cousin of tar sands found mainly in the United States, contains at least an additional 300 gigatons of carbon. If we turn to these dirtiest of fuels, instead of finding ways to phase out our addiction to fossil fuels, there is no hope of keeping carbon concentrations below 500 p.p.m. — a level that would, as earth’s history shows, leave our children a climate system that is out of their control.
We need to start reducing emissions significantly, not create new ways to increase them.
We should impose a gradually rising carbon fee, collected from fossil fuel companies, then distribute 100 percent of the collections to all Americans on a per-capita basis every month. The government would not get a penny. This market-based approach would stimulate innovation, jobs and economic growth, avoid enlarging government or having it pick winners or losers. Most Americans, except the heaviest energy users, would get more back than they paid in increased prices. Not only that, the reduction in oil use resulting from the carbon price would be nearly six times as great as the oil supply from the proposed pipeline from Canada, rendering the pipeline superfluous, according to economic models driven by a slowly rising carbon price.
But instead of placing a rising fee on carbon emissions to make fossil fuels pay their true costs, leveling the energy playing field, the world’s governments are forcing the public to subsidize fossil fuels with hundreds of billions of dollars per year. This encourages a frantic stampede to extract every fossil fuel through mountaintop removal, longwall mining, hydraulic fracturing, tar sands and tar shale extraction, and deep ocean and Arctic drilling.
President Obama speaks of a “planet in peril,” but he does not provide the leadership needed to change the world’s course. Our leaders must speak candidly to the public — which yearns for open, honest discussion — explaining that our continued technological leadership and economic well-being demand a reasoned change of our energy course.
History has shown that the American public can rise to the challenge, but leadership is essential.
The science of the situation is clear — it’s time for the politics to follow. This is a plan that can unify conservatives and liberals, environmentalists and business. Every major national science academy in the world has reported that global warming is real, caused mostly by humans, and requires urgent action. The cost of acting goes far higher the longer we wait — we can’t wait any longer to avoid the worst and be judged immoral by coming generations.
James Hansen directs the NASA Goddard Institute for Space Studies and is the author of “Storms of My Grandchildren.”
http://www.nytimes.com/2012/05/10/opinion/game-over-for-the-climate.html?_r=3&ref=opinionBy James Hansen, NASA New York Times | May 9, 2012 GLOBAL warming isn’t a... more